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Ecuador - People

Ecuador's population is ethnically mixed. A large majority of the population is mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Caucasian), followed by smaller percentages of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and European descendent criollos.

An estimated 7-30 percent of the population maintained their indigenous cultural identity and lived in indigenous communities. The vast majority of indigenous citizens resided in rural areas, including the highlands and Amazonian provinces. Despite their political influence and advocacy efforts of grassroots community groups, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination at many levels of society and, with few exceptions, were at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.

Arable land was scarce in the more heavily populated highland areas, where high infant mortality, malnutrition, and epidemic disease were common among the indigenous population. Electricity and potable water often were unavailable. Although the rural education system was seriously deficient, many indigenous groups participated with the Ministry of Education in the development of the bilingual education program used in rural public schools. The literacy rate among the indigenous population was approximately 72 percent.

The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons; it declares the state plurinational, recognizing Kichwa and Shuar as "official languages of intercultural relations," and specifically recognizes indigenous justice. However, the lack of a clearly defined relationship between indigenous justice and the regular justice system led to a number of legal conflicts between the government and indigenous leaders. According to press reports, there were 18 cases of indigenous justice during the year.

The law also recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally. Land in many cases is titled to the indigenous community. In other cases, indigenous groups managed a reserve that the government set aside for biodiversity protection. Although indigenous persons have the same civil and political rights as other citizens, some of their leaders reported discrimination and prosecution.

Indigenous groups lobbied the government, enlisted the help of foreign and domestic NGOs, and mounted protests in attempts to win a greater share of oil revenues and a greater voice in natural resource and development decisions. Settlers, including those from other indigenous groups, drug traffickers, and loggers illegally encroached into indigenous territory. Corrupt local officials, a lack of political will, and divisions among and within indigenous communities undermined indigenous efforts to stop the flow of illegally harvested timber. Widespread environmental damage, in part due to deforestation and petroleum production, constituted another serious problem. Small-scale mining, often on the part of indigenous communities themselves, also contributed to serious environmental damage.

An environmental lawsuit brought by certain indigenous communities against the multinational oil company Chevron was pending at the end of 2010 under the jurisdiction of the Sucumbios Provincial Court. The lawsuit, which was filed in Ecuador in 2003, is a continuation of a lawsuit originally launched in 1993 in the United States for damage allegedly caused by oil production activities of Texaco (later purchased by Chevron) prior to its 1992 departure from Ecuador. The plaintiffs, representing 30,000 indigenous persons who claimed that their health, welfare, and livelihoods were affected by environmental damage caused by Texaco, revised their damages estimate from $27 billion up to $113 billion in September 2010.

Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who account for approximately 3 percent of the population, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly with regard to educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping continued to affect them. For example, they continued to assert that police stopped Afro-Ecuadorians for document checks more frequently than they stopped other citizens and that employers often would not interview persons whose job applications carried Afro-Ecuadorian photos. There were no special government efforts to address these problems, except for the Municipality of Quito, which in 2008 prohibited private and public institutions in Quito from accepting curriculum vitae with pictures.

The Corporation for the Development of Afro-Ecuadorians (CODAE) noted that Afro-Ecuadorians still lacked access to basic education. CODAE stated that the school registration rate for Afro-Ecuadorian children was 87 percent, below the national average. A national survey by CODAE revealed that high levels of racism and discrimination against minority groups persisted and that 88 and 71 percent of Afro-Ecuadorians and indigenous persons, respectively, had been victims of racism and discrimination.

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the right of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (a rural, farming population recognized as an independent ethnic group) communities to restitution for acts of discrimination. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. A 2009 executive decree calls for all public-sector bodies to ensure that "access to labor" reflects the percentage of the population of indigenous persons, Afro-Ecuadorians, and Montubios.

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